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Mapp Bio Steps onto Global Stage as Ebola “Hot Zone” Gets Hotter

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 01:01
Bruce V. Bigelow

The “hot zone” in West Africa that has become the worst Ebola outbreak in history is now a full-blown global health crisis—and it is expected to continue into 2015.

That is the consensus of three Ebola experts who, speaking at a public forum in San Diego, joined a growing number of world health officials in warning that the thousands of known and suspected Ebola cases may be just the beginning in a protracted battle to bring the letal viral contagion under control.

The forum, held in a lobby of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) Wednesday, included a rare public appearance by Kevin Whaley, CEO of Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the tiny San Diego biotech that developed ZMapp, the experimental anti-viral drug given to American missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, as well as a Spanish priest and three African healthcare workers—who were all stricken with Ebola. One of the African healthcare workers, Dr. Abraham Borbo of Liberia, and the Rev. Miguel Pajares of Madrid, nevertheless succumbed to the disease.

Whaley, who has avoided the celebratory publicity surrounding ZMapp, said he and co-founder Larry Zeitlin “both came out of the school of public health at Johns Hopkins,” and founded Mapp Bio in 2003 to serve the “unmet needs in global health.” The company has only nine employees and is focused primarily on the health needs of mothers and children in “under-funded and under-appreciated” places like West Africa.

Kevin Whaley

The unassuming Whaley declined to say much about his feelings after Brantly and Writebol walked out of the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they were hospitalized after receiving the first doses of ZMapp ever administered to humans. While the experience was “certainly very satisfying,” Whaley said ZMapp was not given in a way that could yield any scientifically validated data or conclusions. “Any skeptical scientist would have to say there is no way to know” whether the drug contributed to the four survivors’ recovery, he said.

With all available samples of ZMapp now exhausted, Whaley said Mapp Bio is looking for major help from the federal government to make more.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said Thursday the Ebola outbreak could infect more than 20,000 people before it is over. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told CNN Wednesday that the situation in Liberia is worse than he expected. Because Ebola symptoms can take weeks to develop, Frieden said the risk of exporting Ebola to another country increases every day the outbreak goes on.

Health authorities have counted 1,552 deaths in at least 3,069 suspected or confirmed Ebola cases since the outbreak began at the beginning of this year, according to an update posted on the CDC website Thursday. The disease has spread to four countries in West Africa: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria. As the crisis mounts, the U.S. and U.K. are finally moving to test a new Ebola vaccine for the first time in … Next Page »

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West Coast Biotech Roundup: ARCH, Ebola, ViaCyte, Calithera & More

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 15:36
Alex Lash

Lots of news this week up and down the coast and up and down the biotech food chain. We’ve got a new twist (or fold, if you prefer) on academic Ebola research at the University of Washington, and new workspace for tiny startups in Palo Alto and San Diego. We’ve got fresh venture capital for early-stage companies from ARCH Venture Partners, and more mature companies like Calithera Biosciences looking to go public.

If you prefer your news with a corporate flavor, we’ve got an update on a small San Diego company working in the shadow of the Roche/Intermune acquisition. Just remember, the Left Coast is the Best Coast.

—ARCH Venture Partners, with offices in San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere, said Wednesday it closed its eighth fund with at least $400 million in commitments, matching its seventh fund that closed in 2007. The total could rise to $425 million. Managing director Bob Nelsen told Xconomy that ARCH VIII will have at least one and perhaps two or three megadeals like Juno Therapeutics, in which ARCH invests an unusually large amount of capital alongside nontraditional early-stage biotech investors.

—The Seattle Times reported this week that scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design are asking gamers worldwide to help with Ebola research. The gist of it: The online site Foldit, which is run by a different group at UW, allows players to tackle an Ebola “puzzle” and find weaknesses in the virus’s structure that might be attacked by a protein therapeutic. Meanwhile, a new effort to test Ebola vaccine kicked off this week; the U.S. National Institutes of Health is launching two trials in healthy volunteers, and a British consortium of public and private health groups plan a similar trial in the U.K., Mali, and the Gambia.

—San Diego-based ViaCyte, which has been developing an artificial pancreas, said it received $20 million from Johnson & Johnson, an existing investor, as part of a rights agreement with J&J’s Janssen Research & Development. The agreement allows Janssen to evaluate ViaCyte’s technology, which consists of pancreatic precursor cells in a proprietary container implanted under the skin. The device allows the encapsulated cells to release insulin into the bloodstream, and does not require drugs to suppress the body’s immune response.

—Calithera Biosciences of South San Francisco filed paperwork Monday declaring its intent to go public. The firm, spun out of the University of California, San Francisco lab of Jim Wells, raised a Series D round in October 2013 that signaled a shift in strategy, from work based on Wells’ research on the role of caspases in cancer cell death to a new oncology program based on glutamine metabolism. The round was led by new investors, including hedge fund Adage Capital Partners, so it’s no surprise that Calithera has moved quickly to go public.

—After months of acquisition rumors, Brisbane, CA-based InterMune accepted an $8.3 billion offer from Roche, the top price so far paid for a biotech working on drugs to treat pulmonary fibrosis, a deadly scarring of the lungs. Intermune is the first to bring a pulmonary fibrosis drug to market. Pirfenidone, which treats the idiopathic version (no known cause), is sold in Europe under the brand name Esbriet. U.S. regulators should decide whether to approve pirfenidone in late November. Roche CEO Severin Schwan told Forbes that InterMune, if shareholders approve the deal, will not be the target of job cuts. “This is a growth story,” Schwan said.

—The Roche-Intermune deal comes at an opportune time for San Diego’s Genoa Pharmaceuticals, which has been raising a Series A round from investors to advance its lead drug candidate into clinical trials. The FDA granted orphan-drug status to Genoa earlier this month for its … Next Page »

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New Ebola Vaccine Tests Could Provide Early Results End of 2014

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 12:11
Alex Lash

The National Institutes of Health has the green light to begin testing a new Ebola vaccine in humans, and data showing the vaccine’s safety and ability to provoke an immune response should be available by the end of the year.

Whether those data are enough to make health officials confident to give the vaccine to people in the field remains to be seen, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci said on a conference call Thursday morning.

Once the data are available, Fauci said, “the most scientifically sound thing would be to proceed in a study that determines further safety and efficacy. But it’s impossible to predict when people can have it to use.”

Fauci called the efforts an “all-hands-on-deck response” to a public health emergency that has claimed at least 1,500 lives so far.

Fauci cautioned that the vaccine, if and when approved to use more widely, would likely first be given as a single shot to laboratory and healthcare workers treating people stricken with Ebola. It was developed by NIH and Okairos, a Swiss biotech company that GlaxoSmithKline acquired in 2013 for $325 million.

The trial, which begins next week at the NIH in Bethesda, MD, aims to enroll 20 healthy volunteers. Other trials are on tap, too, with a slightly different version of the vaccine.

The NIAID will start a second trial in October, and a public-private consortium is gearing up for a trial conducted in the United Kingdom, Mali and the Gambia. That effort is being funded by a $4.6 million grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department for International Development.

It’s the first time this particular vaccine will be given to humans, but it’s not the first Ebola vaccine tested in humans—the NIH has run at least four other trials in recent years. They all delivered the same fragment of the Ebola virus meant to train the body’s immune system to fight infection, but they had different delivery mechanisms—known as vectors in vaccine-speak—that carried the Ebola fragment into cells. None of those previous trials advanced beyond Phase 1.

In the new efforts, the NIAID trial to begin next week carries fragments of two different Ebola strains: “Zaire,” which is causing the current outbreak, and “Sudan.” The second NIAID trial and the UK consortium trial will test a version with just the Zaire strain.

The Ebola fragments won’t, or shouldn’t, cause infection; vaccines work on the same principle used when investigators give a police dog an item of clothing to track the smell of a suspect. The virus fragment is meant to be just enough to help the immune system identify the real culprit when it invades.

Private companies have been working on clinical trial plans for Ebola treatments, but at least two of them have been interrupted recently. Sarepta Therapeutics of Cambridge, MA (NASDAQ: SRPT) scotched plans in 2012 for a Phase 1 trial after a stop-work order, and Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKMR) had its Phase 1 trial placed on hold by the FDA before the agency reconsidered. Earlier this month, the company said the FDA might allow use of the drug in infected people because of the seriousness of the current outbreak.

Meanwhile, San Diego biotech company Mapp Biopharmaceutical has never formally tested its ZMapp treatment in people, but three Western aid workers who were infected in West Africa were administered doses and flown back to their home countries.

Two of them, both Americans, survived and are no longer in the hospital. The third, a Spaniard, did not survive.

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Open Data Can Help Government Be the Airbnb of Civic Services

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 13:13
Robert Runge

Until recently, 99 percent of government data around the world was shrouded in darkness. It was trapped in a vault, gathering mold, and never saw the light of day.

But the vibrant open data movement, which is taking hold on just about every continent, has begun to radically change this. Now, government data is being unlocked and illuminated, and it’s helping citizens, communities, and companies connect and innovate with new insights and intelligence that will drive prosperity for years to come.

I believe that this dramatic shift in government data—which turns night into day for the public sector—will ultimately prove to be as significant for the world as Edison’s electrification at the end of the 19th century. Indeed, we now have the technology infrastructure, platform, applications, and devices to help any government plug into the open data “grid” and turn on the “lights.”

There are four main reasons why government data is experiencing this Edison-like moment now:

  • First, the Internet has moved from being a basic digital backbone that simply moved data. It now opens a real window that enables people at all levels of technology proficiency to do amazing things every day in a seamless and connected way.
  • Second, the Internet user experience has become an extension of our individual and collective nervous system. We are tethered to our digital devices 24×7, and being online is just like breathing.
  • Third, streaming data represents a complete departure from the past. In the past, we were organizing, dragging and dropping, and managing data on the Web. Now, we’re just flowing with dynamic data as it pours in in real time. One of the most striking illustrations of this change is the way that Spotify is helping make iTunes obsolete.
  • Fourth, the shared services economy, based on digitally brokered access to things provided by others, has come of age. Two good examples here are Uber and Airbnb, which have succeeded in disrupting two very complex industries: urban taxi transportation and global hospitality.

Looking ahead, I feel that open data can help government become a cutting-edge broker, just like Uber or Airbnb. In fact, it’s not too far-fetched to envision the day when government is called the Airbnb of civic services!

Before you dismiss this as hyperbole, think about it. Government can offer its voluminous, under-utilized, and under-valued data as a resource through which important transactions between citizens, communities, and companies can take place.

Why not?

Government is a hub. It sits right in the middle of these groups. And it’s perfectly poised and positioned to add considerable value by connecting people and inspiring a slew of data-driven relationships that affect a host of social, legal, political, and economic issues.

One good example of this can be found in Chicago, where a data visualization explores crime trends so citizens can take action to make their neighborhoods safer. The data visualization was built using open data about Chicago crimes released by the Chicago Police Department.

Another example is New York City’s data visualization, which displays vehicle collisions aggregated by time of day using recently released NYPD motor vehicle collision data.

This new way of viewing government is all part of transforming the public sector from a mere service dispensary to a full-fledged innovation accelerator in the 21st century.

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AirStrip Raises $25M to Expand into Home Health, Foreign Markets

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 11:34
Bruce V. Bigelow

AirStrip, a San Antonio, TX-based company integrating mobile health and IT technologies, has raised $25 million in a strategic funding round that includes new and existing investors.

In a statement, AirStrip says the capital would be used to support the continued expansion of its AirStrip ONE mobile technology platform, introduce its technology to the home health market, expand overseas, and apply analytics capabilities to the healthcare data it is collecting.

“The success of this investment round shows deep industry support and validation of the AirStrip strategic vision,” AirStrip CEO Alan Portela says in the statement. “Right now, one in six babies born in the U.S. is monitored with AirStrip, and at-risk patients were monitored 1.2 million times in 2013 alone.”

One of the new investors is San Diego’s Gary and Mary West Health Investment Fund, which previously put $4 million into Sense4Baby, a startup developing remote maternal-fetal monitoring technology that AirStrip acquired five months ago. Leerink Partners, the Boston investment bank that specializes in healthcare deals, also was a new investor in the round.

Two other new investors are both AirStrip customers: Dignity Health, a San Francisco-based not-for-profit health system, operates more than 380 hospitals, clinics, and other care centers in 20 states; and St. Joseph’s Health, based in Irvine, CA, operates 16 acute care hosptals, skilled nursing facilities, and other care centers in Texas, California, and eastern New Mexico.

In addition, AirStrip said its existing investors, which include San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: [[ticker]], Menlo Park, CA-based Sequoia Capital, the Wellcome Trust (a charitable foundation based in London), and Hospital Corp of America (NYSE: HCA), also participated in the deal.

In early 2012, AirStrip disclosed a collaboration with Qualcomm Life that has been integrating AirStrip’s patient monitoring technologies with the Qualcomm Life 2net wireless health technology platform. Qualcomm also made an undisclosed strategic investment in AirStrip at that time.

In an e-mail yesterday, Portela said the company does not publicly disclose how much total capital it has raised since it was founded in 2004 as AirStrip Technologies. Portela confirmed that AirStrip’s previous funding round was almost two years ago, when the Wellcome Trust made an undisclosed investment that Dow Jones reported was at least $10 million.

The company currently has 140 employees, Portela said.

“We provide [the] ONE mobile platform and ONE mobile application, providing front-end integration from multiple data types (medical devices, EMRs [electronic medical records], video, images, secure messaging, etc.) supporting multiple care settings (acute, post-acute, and home monitoring), as well as multiple care givers (doctors, nurses, case managers, etc.),” Portela wrote.

AirStrip’s mobile technology platform works with mobile devices based on a variety of operating systems, including Apple iOS, Android, Windows 8, and others, he added. “Our concept of [mobile health] is about the mobile consumer and not the device (since we provide a seamless native experience on all form factors—phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop).

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San Diego Venture Group Names Mike Krenn as New President

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 09:00
Bruce V. Bigelow

The San Diego Venture Group is announcing a change in command.

Mike Krenn, a veteran San Diego marketing and business development executive, is succeeding Dave Titus as president of the nonprofit business organization, which has worked in recent years to inject new energy to the startup ecosystem in San Diego.

Krenn has worked for various law firms in San Diego. He was most recently at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves, & Savitch, overseeing initiatives that included managing LaunchPad, an in-house program to help startup teams prepare to raise investment capital. He begins his new job today—just in time for the venture group’s annual summer social beer bash, set for this afternoon at the Scripps Seaside Forum in La Jolla.

With about 800 individual and corporate members, the venture group says its primary mission is fostering relationships and ideas to form, fund, and build new ventures. Titus, who was a co-founder of San Diego’s Windward Ventures, became the venture group’s first full-time president in 2011, and has been mostly focused on growing and supporting the local community of tech startups, which has been ailing.

There are typically more venture investments in life sciences startups than in tech startups in San Diego each quarter. The density of life sciences companies based here is also greater; there are more biotech innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors working through the startup cycle of founding, growing, and selling their companies.

Dave Titus

Under Titus, the venture group’s annual venture summit has become a showcase for local “Cool Companies.” The group also has worked to increase venture investing in San Diego by bringing out-of-town venture firms like Arizona’s Grayhawk Capital, Oakland, CA-based Claremont Creek Ventures, and Philadelphia’s Susquehana Growth Equity to meet local tech entrepreneurs through a new “Venture Link” program.

Before 2011, the venture group’s principal activity was hosting monthly breakfast meetings that featured talks by VCs, consultants, and others. While the venture group continues to hold 11 breakfast meetings a year, Titus said he’s added new members to … Next Page »

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Coelacanths And Other IPO Thoughts Before The Autumn Markets Return

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:48
Alex Lash

Ah, the final week of summer. Would that it could go on forever. And thanks for reading this on your mobile device with your toes in the sand. Just don’t forget to take a dip or toss a Frisbee when you’re done.

No doubt many would like the current biotech IPO climate to stretch on and on, too. There’s been the typical August lull, but after Labor Day the markets should get right back to business. There are 40 healthcare IPOs in the pipeline, according to IPO Scoop, and most are probably biotech if recent IPO history is a guide. One biotech VC, who asked not to be quoted by name, has already seen his firm score three IPOs since the beginning of 2013, and said of the fall season, “It’s time to go to market.”

So how about that recent history? In the last 12 months, healthcare IPOs haven’t just thrived, they’ve dominated. According to IPO Scoop, 33 percent of the 288 market debuts have been healthcare companies. Looking to the fall and winter, can the pace continue? Let’s consider a few things.

One characteristic of this window has been resiliency. The first quarter of 2014 was record-breaking with about 30 life science IPOs, but criticism of the price of Gilead Sciences’ (NASDAQ: GILD) sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) helped drive a market sell-off in late March. The biotech IPO flow fell off for a couple months. Then in July, even though Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen called biotech and social media valuations “substantially overstretched,” briefly knocking a few points off the stock indices, the blistering pace resumed and 16 more biotechs went public.

Another thing to note is that, these days, the IPO pipeline is more like an iceberg: We’re not sure how much is hidden under the water line. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, has transformed the IPO process in the U.S., as I explained at the two-year anniversary. It has allowed small companies—biotechs and otherwise—to test the waters by holding conversations with bankers, investors, and others for a while before declaring their intentions to the world. So there are certainly more than 40 healthcare companies warming up their IPO engines.

The ability to tell a company story and get feedback earlier helps move companies into position in more timely fashion if and when unexpected news—say, a release of much-better-than-hoped-for data—can create a new window of opportunity.

Yet another factor to consider for the fall and winter is what public investors consider viable IPO candidates. Conventional wisdom says they want to put their money into companies farther along in development: generally speaking, Phase 2 or later, if their top product is a biopharmaceutical product. And the big venture dollars flowing these days into private biotechs have in no small part come from so-called “crossover” investors looking for footholds in soon-to-be public companies. (If you want to play the parlor game of “who’s next to file an S-1?,” find the biotechs that have recently raised rounds from hedge funds and mutual funds such as RA Capital, Deerfield, T. Rowe Price, Fidelity, Baupost Group, and Adage Capital Partners.)

According to a recent EvaluatePharma report, 24 percent of the $3.2 billion put into private biopharmas in the first half of 2014 was concentrated in the ten biggest venture rounds, nearly twice as large a percentage as in awash-with-cash 2007. “The money is beginning to migrate to later, bigger rounds and away from early-stage funding,” the report reads. (See page 9.)

But since the IPO window flew wide open in 2013, public investors haven’t been shy about making earlier-stage bets, either.

An Xconomy analysis of life science IPOs in 2013 and 2014 shows that the appetite for less mature companies, while not overwhelming, has remained steady. Stripping out medical device, diagnostics, and other nonbiopharma companies, I found that 24 percent of biopharmas that went public in 2013 began their run with a lead program in Phase 1 or earlier. So far in 2014, the tally is 21 percent.

(As for device and diagnostics companies, it is practically impossible for them to go public without a commercial product.)

In other words, more than one-fifth of the 83 biopharma companies that have gone public since the start of 2013 were early-stage companies at the time, double the rate of the last big biotech window. Of the 50 biopharmas that went … Next Page »

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“Plan” Versus “Vision” Entrepreneurs and How a VC Evaluates Startups

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:46
Aziz Gilani

Since I first joined Mercury Fund in 2008, I’ve seen the ups (now) and downs (2009) of venture capital in just six years. Despite the wildly different environments, I’ve noticed that the types of pitches we get, and our responses to them, haven’t changed much. Although we have seen small changes to some of the structures we use—capped notes anyone?—pitching entrepreneurs are still, by and large, falling into two categories and receiving two levels of investment from Mercury.

Raising $100,000 versus $2 million.
I recently spent time with my friends Jason Seats and Andy Aguiluz at Techstars Austin mentoring the current class, which is gearing up for its demo day September 3. The teams are first rate and making a lot of progress and, as is typical with the early-stage entrepereneurs I meet and mentor, these Techstars pitches can be designated as “Vision” pitches and “Plan” pitches. I react to both categories differently because they indicate different types of maturity amongst the companies, which results in two contrasting levels of investment and involvement from the Mercury Fund investment team.

I’ve got a vision!
The first category describes companies that spent their time explaining their customers’ needs and their solutions. The best version of these pitches also included educated guesses about their total addressable market, or TAM, and maybe even the unit economics around an individual customer. These are the vision pitches. I walk away from these pitches with an understanding of the product and market, but without much information about a team’s ability to execute their vision.

At Mercury Fund, we look at these opportunities as seed investments for which we typically invest a few hundred thousand dollars into these companies in the form of convertible notes. Immediately after investing, we work with the entrepreneur to define and execute against a set of milestones that demonstrate the team’s ability to fulfill their vision while validating their TAM.

I’ve got a plan!
The second category describes companies that are showing signs of market traction and, more importantly, the ability to execute. These companies don’t spend a lot of time describing their customer needs and solution because they already have real facts supporting their TAM. Instead, we spend the bulk of our time discussing customer acquisition, marketing strategies, and their future product roadmap as it relates to improving their customer revenue footprint. These pitches are data-driven affairs. The ask for funding is fact-based, with a clear plan for scaling up engineering and business development resources around a specific strategy.

At Mercury Fund we look at these companies as Series A candidates with aggregate round sizes ranging from $1.5 million to $3 million investment rounds. We take board seats in these companies, in addition to suggesting other independent board members who have industry experience. For these companies, we focus our efforts on three major objectives: Recruiting the best talent possible to scale the business, intelligently adding and removing features from the product to expand revenue possibilities, and rapidly growing their customer base.

We track progress against these goals with a combination of metrics including monthly recurring revenue, or MRR, revenue per customer, and customer churn.

If anything has changed during the past few years, it’s the speed with which companies can progress from the first category to the second. A host of platforms such as Amazon Web Services have made it a lot easier and faster for companies to turn their plans into reality. Because of the lower time and capital required to mature, we see more plan than vision pitches these days. Some funds have gone so far as to say that they consider $1 million of annual revenue as the table stakes required for their early stage investments.

I love both types of companies. GameSalad, a popular mobile game development tool, was a vision company when we first invested, and has now fully blossomed into a plan company. Trendkite, developer of PR measurement and optimization tools, is a company for which we last month led a $3.2 million round. It is clearly a plan company.

Either way, let’s win.
Making that transition from vision to plan is difficult without the correct underlying facts and data. You need to know your customer acquisition cost (CAC) and your TAM based on real transactions.

Knowing the categories—and where your startup fits in—can help you understand how VCs look at your business and how much we are willing to invest. There is an exception to every rule, of course, but I generally find that the plan versus vision categorization holds true the vast majority of the time.

In either case the goal for both of us is the same: Taking your business to the next level.

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Roche To Pay $8.3B For Intermune: Who’s Next In Pulmonary Fibrosis?

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:03
Alex Lash

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche said Sunday it would buy Intermune (NASDAQ: ITMN) of Brisbane, CA, for $8.3 billion. It’s by far the high water mark of a growing wave in recent years of deals for drugs to treat pulmonary fibrosis, a deadly scarring of the lungs that often has no known cause.

The idiopathic version—meaning its cause remains mysterious—kills 40,000 people a year in the U.S. alone. Of all pulmonary fibrosis cases, including those with a known cause such as infection, autoimmune disease, or environmental toxins like those inhaled by firefighters, two-thirds end in death within five years of diagnosis, according to the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis in Culver City, CA.

Intermune garnered such a high price because it has managed to bring a pulmonary fibrosis drug to market, the first drug maker to do so. Its pirfenidone, which treats the idiopathic version, is sold in Europe under the brand name Esbriet. It’s been approved in Canada, too, but the public health system won’t pay for it. U.S. regulators should make the call on pirfenidone in late November.

Rumors of Intermune’s acquisition have bubbled up for months, most recently in mid-August, and its stock price has nearly tripled since late February. (It closed at $53.80 on Friday, and Roche has agreed to pay $74 a share, a 38 percent bump.)

But pulmonary fibrosis has been on Big Pharma’s radar for some time. Bristol-Myers Squibb bought San Diego’s Amira Pharmaceuticals in 2011 for $325 million, with up to $150 million more in milestones. Then Biogen Idec bought Stromedix in 2012 for $75 million upfront, with nearly $500 million in potential milestone payments. (Stromedix originally got the drug from Biogen Idec, where Stromedix CEO Michael Gilman had been a top research executive; it went full circle back to Biogen—as did Gilman for a limited time—with the deal.)

The scientists who founded Amira went their separate ways. Two of them, Jilly Evans and John Hutchinson, have helped launch PharmAkea Therapeutics, also based in San Diego, which is working on what it says are therapies targeting cancer and fibrotic diseases. The startup came out of stealth last October, already tied to the hip of Celgene, which is putting in $35 million over three years in exchange for equity and an option to buy the company. (We don’t know how much Celgene might have to pay to acquire PharmAkea, but chances are it won’t be $8 billion.)

Other companies to watch now that Roche has upped the ante on pulmonary fibrosis acquisitions:

—Privately-held Promedior of Lexington, MA, which has done Phase 1 tests of its lead candidate PRM-151 in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis but is actually a bit farther ahead with it in myelofibrosis, a cancer that includes scarring of the bone marrow. Xconomy reported on the myelofibrosis program earlier this year.

—Genoa Pharmaceuticals, which Xconomy profiled in 2012, is working on an aerosol version of pirfenidone that it believes will avoid the side effects that come with Intermune’s oral pill. Genoa received orphan drug designation earlier this month from the FDA.

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BioKier Takes a Shot at a New Kind of Diabetes Drug

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 08:00
Frank Vinluan

Diabetics know all too well that needle sticks are a routine part of managing their disease. Insulin injections have been part of the diabetes standard of care for decades. And in recent years, a new class of injectable drugs have emerged to help patients regulate their blood sugar levels.

Chapel Hill, NC, drug developer BioKier is beginning human tests of a drug that, if successful, could replace these injection therapies with a pill that coaxes the body to regulate blood sugar levels on its own, says George Szewczyk, BioKier founder and CEO. If it works, BioKier’s approach could offer some advantages over blockbuster diabetes drugs currently available from big pharmaceutical companies.

“We believe we have a better safety profile,” Szewczyk says. “We also believe that there is a very good chance that our drug will be more efficacious than other drugs.”

The inspiration for BioKier’s lofty goal comes from an unlikely origin: gastric bypass surgery.

Patients who have undergone a gastric bypass lose weight in part because shrinking the stomach’s size reduces the amount of food needed to make a person feel full, so patients eat less. But researchers observed another beneficial effect, says Roger Nolan, BioKier co-founder, president, and chief operating officer. The blood sugar of many diabetics returned to normal levels shortly after the surgery. In some cases, diabetes simply went away.

Research linked this effect to a gut hormone that regulates blood sugar. Secretion of this hormone, called a glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1, is triggered by nutrients from food, Nolan explains. Because it leaves patients with a tiny stomach, gastric bypass surgery results in those nutrients being digested further along the digestive tract, at the beginning of the colon, which prompts the body to release GLP-1. BioKier’s experimental drug, for now called BKR-013, aims to mimic this effect with a pill that carries a payload of the nutrient glutamine into the colon. Nolan calls it “gastric bypass in a pill.”

The global market for diabetes treatments is in the tens of billions of dollars. BioKier is far from the first pharma company to take a GLP-1-based approach to treating the disease. Novo Nordisk’s (NYSE: NVO) Victoza (liraglutide), for instance, is an analog drug, meaning that it is similar to GLP-1. The once-daily injectable generates more than $2.1 billion in annual sales. Byetta (exenatide), a twice-daily injectable GLP-1 analog originally developed by San Diego biotech Amylin Pharmaceuticals and now marketed by AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), generated $206 million in 2013 sales. A once-weekly version of that drug, Bydureon, produced $151 million in sales last year for AstraZeneca. And Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) is awaiting the Food and Drug Administration’s decision on dulaglutide, which is expected to take market share from liraglutide.

While GLP-1-like drugs help diabetics reduce their glucose levels, these drugs have also been linked in animal tests, clinical trials, and post-marketing studies with possible higher risks of pancreatitis and cancer. Szewczyk says that GLP-1 produced in the body has a short half-life, meaning it will disappear soon after a meal. Consequently, he says, stimulating production of the hormone with BioKier’s drug shouldn’t pose the health risks associated with treatments like liraglutide and exenatide that introduce longer-lived analogs of GLP-1 into the body.

At least one other company has explored an approach similar to BioKier’s. Lumena Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego company that was acquired for $260 million earlier this year by Shire Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ SHPG), tried using bile acids, rather than glutamine to trigger GLP-1 production. But prior to the Shire acquisition, Lumena, which was launched in North Carolina in 2011 with early investment from Durham venture capital firm Pappas Ventures, had shifted its research focus away from diabetes; Lumena instead turned toward rare liver diseases.

BioKier’s technology stems from more than Szewczyk’s research—it also comes from his own experience with diabetes. In 20 years at GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) and its predecessor companies, Szewczyk researched treatments for diabetes and obesity. But he says it wasn’t until he left GSK in 2008 that he developed the disease himself.

Szewczyk had read studies on the research of non-digestible sugars as a diabetes treatment, research that had been conducted in rats. He decided to test whether one of these sugars, lactitol, would help control his diabetes. The experiment was a success, and with continued treatment he shows no diabetes symptoms. “My diabetes fully reversed and is fully in control,” Szewczyk now says.

At about the time of Szewczyk’s initial test, he came upon research from Fiona Gribble at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. He was intrigued by Gribble’s research on glutamine as a trigger for … Next Page »

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What I’ve Learned From 25 Years in the Tech Industry

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 07:30
Shellye Archambeau

Building and running a successful startup in America’s fiercely competitive tech industry is never easy. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution or manual for how to go about it. But as they say, experience is the best teacher. So it’s my pleasure to share with you some of my own experiences and observations in building and managing tech companies.

I began my journey in the tech industry over 25 years ago, working my way up to senior management roles in IT companies such as LoudCloud (renamed Opsware), NorthPoint Communications (which was later sold to AT&T), and IBM. For the last 10 years, I’ve served as the CEO of MetricStream, a Silicon Valley-based governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) company which I helped build from the ground up.

I’ve learned several important lessons—not only from my personal career journey, but also from the challenges and successes of my clients and peers in the industry. Here are a few key lessons which have stood me in good stead:

Innovate! Then, Protect Your Innovations

When we first formed the new MetricStream in 2004, our aim was to offer a robust compliance product built on an enterprise platform for end-to-end compliance management, to help companies better manage their risks. But we soon realized that customers were struggling with a wide range of compliance process issues across many regulations. So we extended our platform to address broader requirements around risk management, audits, supplier governance, and IT GRC. Given the new focus, we detected a need for collaboration and training. We launched, a portal for GRC professionals. And today, we continue to innovate, developing GRC products around social media, mobility, big data, and the like.

If you want to stay relevant, you have to innovate. The good news is that startups are great places for innovation because there are fewer stakeholders and more openness to ideas. But a word of caution: protect your ideas. Take a cue from Blaze Mobile, a leader in near field communication (NFC) technology. At a time when resources were scarce, Blaze Mobile invested in filing multiple patents for things like NFC mobile payments, NFC stickers, mobile ticketing, and more. Today, the company has over 30 patents and is well-positioned not only to effectively protect its intellectual property, but also to generate revenue by licensing out and monetizing its patents.

Be Quick and Agile

There was a time when Kodak dominated film and camera sales in America. Then came the digital revolution. Photography started to shift away from traditional analog film, but Kodak didn’t evolve quickly or effectively enough. And by the time they did, it was too late—the market had been taken over by other players with more advanced technology.

Speed and agility are two of the biggest advantages that tech startups have over their larger, more established counterparts. But it’s easy to get complacent, especially after you’ve tasted some measure of success. Meanwhile, markets will have moved on, customer expectations will have changed, and the competition will have caught up. So, if you want to stay ahead, you have to … Next Page »

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Quest for Electoral Innovation Leads to Online Voting for Emmys

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 01:01
Bruce V. Bigelow

Lori Steele-Contorer says she was attending a United Nations conference on technology with the likes of Bill Gates and Carly Fiorina in October 2003, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was first elected as governor of California in a special recall election.

At that time, Steele-Contorer was at Solomon Smith Barney, managing a $200 million portfolio of technology companies. She says it was her job to evaluate transformative technologies, as well as the companies leading such change.

At the U.N. conference, “Everyone was talking about the election,” she wrote in April for the Strategic News Service technology newsletter. But all Steele-Contorer could think about was the backward state of U.S. election technology and the infamous presidential election of 2000. “Regardless of which side of that election one was on,” she wrote, “how was it possible that most of the world questioned the process that elected the president of the United States? Hanging chads? Butterfly ballots? Really? This was the ‘state-of-the-art’ technology relied upon to elect the leader of the free world?”

It was an “Aha!” moment for Steele-Contorer, the CEO of Everyone Counts, a San Diego software company she founded to bring innovation to the electoral process.

“It was also clear to me that some of the elements of voting were very similar to many other mission-critical business processes: banking, commerce, aerospace,” she wrote. They all require authentication, data integrity and protection, secure data transmission, data integration, transparency and auditability, and customer service.

As she set out to research the issue, Steele-Contorer says she found a $31 billion industry that was dominated by hidebound hardware manufacturers. Even after Congress provided $3.9 billion for states to invest in new voting technologies following the debacle of the Bush vs. Gore presidential election, she said the voting machines that most election officials ended up buying were based on decades-old technology “developed way prior to Windows XP.”

A key problem with conventional “black-box” voting machines that insist on keeping their vote-counting code secret was highlighted in mid-2003 by Walden W. O’Dell, a prominent Ohio Republican who also was the chairman and CEO of Diebold, an ATM maker that is also one of the biggest election machine manufacturers. Oblivious to any conflict-of-interest concerns, O’Dell declared in fundraising letters that he was committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for President Bush in 2004. (Diebold sold its voting machine business in 2009 to Election Systems & Software (ES&S) of Omaha, NE.)

It was a big problem, and Steele-Contorer decided to fix it herself. She acquired a company in Melbourne, Australia, with the kind of technology she needed to bring a state-of-the-art approach (already proven in other industries) to the voting process. She established Everyone Counts in San Diego in 2004 to provide secure, software-as-a-service (SaaS) voting systems that eliminate the need for antiquated, purpose-built voting machines and error-prone paper-based ballots.

The SaaS model allows Everyone Counts to continually update its … Next Page »

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Innovation Hub: Rise of the Nerds

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 17:51
Kara Miller

I was labeled one. You probably were too. And now that we’re grown up, lots of us believe that being a “nerd” is actually a badge of honor.

But David Anderegg, author of Nerds: How Dorks, Dweebs, Techies and Trekkies Can Save America and Why They Might Be Our Last Hope, argues that the nerd stereotype is more detrimental to our future than we realize.

Here’s an edited, condensed version of my interview with Anderegg. For audio of the full conversation, visit the Innovation Hub homepage.

Kara Miller: OK, so first of all, let’s start with a definition here. What is a nerd?

David Anderegg: That’s a really tough question. Nerds are a social stereotype. They don’t really exist, but the stereotype is of someone who’s very bright, very good at math, usually male, and usually sexually unappealing or awkward.

KM: Is this stereotype changing at all? Think of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates—people who you know were nerdy once upon a time. And they went on to amass a lot of power and earn a lot of money. So is there any sense that the story is changing?

DA: I think the story is changing a lot, but it depends on where you are. Around Boston or in Silicon Valley or in places like that, this is not a big deal. But if you live elsewhere, I don’t think it has changed that much. Kids are still anxious about being labeled a nerd. And other kids are very down on kids who do nerdy things, like science and math. Pop culture has also changed too, but not as much as I would like. The Big Bang Theory, for example, is every nerd stereotype you could ever imagine. And it’s one of the top television shows in the nation, and I think that’s kind of terrible.

KM: In the subtitle of your book, you say that nerds can save America. How?

DA: All the jobs that we have remaining in this country—I’m talking about jobs for high school grads or people who have a two-year degree—those jobs require much more technical expertise than they used to require. And my biggest concern about the nerd stereotype is that a broad swath of the population is discouraged from taking an interest in science and math and computer courses that they need in order to be employed. It’s a big concern.

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Biotech Unveils Drug for Viral Infections Tied to Cervical Cancer

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 08:00
Bruce V. Bigelow

A small San Diego biotech has identified a drug that appears to prevent several subtypes of the human papillomavirus (HPV) from replicating—including the two HPV subtypes that cause 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer.

“It’s early, so we shouldn’t hype it too much. But the antiviral studies look pretty good,” said Karl Hostetler, an emeritus professor of medicine at UC San Diego, and the founding CEO of Hera Therapeutics. The two-year-old startup has been incubating in the Janssen Labs life sciences accelerator in San Diego.

Research findings being presented in Seattle this weekend during the 29th Annual International Papillomavirus Conference show that HTI-1968, a small molecule discovered in Hostetler’s lab, blocked the replication of HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18 in cultured human cell models. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded the studies, which were done by Louise Chow and Thomas Broker at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

If the early results hold up, Hera Therapeutics could potentially become the first biotech to develop a direct-acting antiviral therapy for HPV. (The drug would be applied topically to the skin, Hostetler said.) But that’s a big “if”—and a number of biopharmaceutical rivals are already in clinical trials with immunotherapy products to treat HPV infections or HPV-related cancers, including Pennsylvania’s Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: INO).

Two HPV vaccines also have been commercially available for years. The FDA approved Merck’s Gardasil in 2006, and authorized additional uses three years later. The agency also approved GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix in 2009.

Both HPV vaccines are designed to trigger the production of antibodies that are keyed to neutralize specific types of HPV (more than 40 subtypes can infect the genital area), including HPV 16 and HPV 18, the subtypes responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancers—and that are also associated with cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.

You might think that would end the matter, in much the same way that vaccines halted the spread of polio and eradicated smallpox. But in … Next Page »

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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Ebola, Mapp, Tekmira, ViaCyte & More

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 15:09
Alex Lash

Big news this morning: two Americans treated with an experimental Ebola treatment have recovered and are now out of the hospital. (A third person, a Spaniard, who received the treatment unfortunately did not recover.)

Meanwhile, the Ebola epidemic continues—more than 1,300 people have died—and with it comes fear and rage.  In the U.S., potential cases continue to crop up, including one person who could be California’s “patient zero” in the state capital, Sacramento.

The experimental drug that seems to have saved two lives is ZMapp. Xconomy checked in Friday with Erica Ollman Saphire, a structural biologist at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, who helped the drug maker, San Diego’s Mapp Biopharmaceutical, identify drug targets on the surface of the thread-like Ebola virus. Saphire has been leading a global research consortium in a campaign against Ebola and related diseases that cause hemorrhagic fevers.

It remains to be seen if Mapp can make more ZMapp quickly, which our San Diego editor Bruce Bigelow writes about in his report. Meanwhile, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: BCRX) of Durham, NC, Xconomy’s newest region of coverage, is also working on an Ebola treatment.

And back on the West Coast, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKMR) of Vancouver, BC, has an experimental Ebola treatment that, once stalled by regulators, is again under consideration. (Another Tekmira drug for Marburg virus, a hemorrhaghic fever like Ebola, showed promising results this week in infected monkeys.)

There is, of course, plenty of other news out West, even if it’s somewhat overshadowed by world events. Let’s get to the roundup.

—Emergent BioSolutions (NYSE: EBS) of Rockville, MD, has licensed German biotech MorphoSys the rights to its experimental prostate cancer treatment ES414 for $20 million immediately and up to $163 million in potential milestone payments. ES414 was developed by Emergent’s protein sciences group in Seattle, which was once Trubion Pharmaceuticals, which Emergent bought for $97 million in 2010, with nearly $40 million in potential post-acquisition milestone payments. Emergent keeps commercial rights in the U.S. and Canada but will pay MorphoSys sales royalties up to 20 percent if they bring it to market. MorphoSys gains commercial rights in all other regions. An Emergent spokeswoman told Xconomy that the MorphoSys deal will not trigger post-acquisition payments to Trubion’s former shareholders because “the timeframe has expired.”

—BioMed Realty Trust is adding 122,000 square feet of space for life science labs and offices in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The developer broke ground Wednesday on an extension of its current facility on Fairview Ave., which currently houses Novo Nordisk, Presage Biosciences, and NanoString Technologies.

—Clinical data firm Comprehend Systems of Redwood City, CA, said Monday it has raised a $21 million Series B round, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Existing investor Sequoia Capital also participated. The company makes software that combines disparate clinical trial data sources into a single database that drug and device makers and their development partners can share.

—The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute named pharmaceutical industry executive Perry Nisen to head the nonprofit, which is based in San Diego and Lake Ono, FL, near Orlando. As a senior vice president of science and innovation at GlaxoSmithKline, Nisen specialized in commercializing new drugs. At a time when Big Pharma has been turning increasingly to collaborations with academic research centers, Nisen said he wants to strengthen Sanford-Burnham’s ties with industry.

—San Diego’s ViaCyte said the FDA has accepted its Investigational New Drug application for VC-01, its artificial pancreas based on a novel use of stem cells. ViaCyte said it will initiate an early stage clinical trial believed to be the first clinical evaluation of a stem cell-derived islet replacement therapy for type 1 diabetes. VC-01 consists of … Next Page »

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JMI Equity Raises $1B for New Fund, Still Riding IT Spending Surge

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 01:01
Bruce V. Bigelow

JMI Equity, the private equity firm that specializes in software deals, says it has raised $1 billion in committed capital for its eighth growth equity fund—its biggest ever—and plans to keep on investing in growing companies with proven business models.

“The business-to-business economy is pretty healthy,” Paul Barber, JMI Equity managing general partner said by phone yesterday. Companies that sell software into the business-to-business economy are experiencing strong growth, he added, and that is where JMI’s strategy is focused.

So does Barber see signs of an investment bubble in software?

“Given the strength of the public markets, and private markets as well, valuation is an issue,” Barber said. “Quite frankly, it’s always an issue.”

The firm is highly selective, though, in its search for deals. Barber said JMI meets with 500 CEOs every year, and usually makes just 17 investments over the four-year investment cycle that is typical for a JMI Equity fund.

The firm continues to manage 15 investments made from its previous fund, JMI VII, which raised $875 million and still has enough capital for several more deals, Barber said. JMI realized one exit from that portfolio last year, when Ion Trading paid a reported $900 million to acquire Triple Point Technology of Westport, CT.

JMI, which is based in San Diego and Baltimore, MD, has raised over $3.1 billion since it was founded in 1992, and has made a total of 115 investments. More than 75 companies have exited JMI’s portfolio since inception, and the firm highlights Autotask, BigMachines, Eloqua, Gemcom, and ServiceNow as some of its best outcomes (without saying anything specific about its investment returns).

Today, JMI has 36 active investments, according to Barber, including San Diego-based Lytx (previously known as DriveCam); Santa Clara, CA-based WhiteHat Security; Undertone and BrightLine, both based in New York City; and Westborough, MA-based Courion.

“The trend toward the cloud continues to be the big megatrend of the decade,” Barber said. Most of the companies in JMI’s investment portfolio are cloud-computing companies, or have cloud-based strategies. The firm also has invested in 18 companies offering software as a service.

The firm’s investment strategy is predicated on the fact that big companies continue to increase their capital expenditures on IT products and services. “Every year, the dollars and percentage invested in software goes up, while the dollars and percentage spent on hardware goes down,” Barber said. “That was the fundamental thesis that we’ve been using since 1992.”

JMI officially launched its eighth fund in January. Existing investors, which include college endowments, foundations, pension funds, and family investment funds, account for about 95 percent of the $1 billion in capital commitments for JMI VIII, Barber said. He attributed that to three factors: JMI’s investment strategy, historical performance, and investment team, which remains largely unchanged, with seven general partners and 30 analysts, vice presidents, and other investment professionals.

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Sanford-Burnham Seeks Improved Pharma Ties with New CEO from GSK

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 21:02
Bruce V. Bigelow

Following an executive search that took about 18 months, San Diego’s Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute named a new CEO today. He is Perry Nisen, a pediatric cancer specialist who specialized in commercializing new drugs as senior vice president of science and innovation at GlaxoSmithKline’s campus in King of Prussia, PA.

The nonprofit research institute is one of the biggest biomedical research institutes in San Diego, and operates a facility near Orlando, FL. Known informally as “the Sanford-Burnham,” the institute has an annual operating budget of about $152 million and ranks among the top U.S. research centers for National Institutes of Health grants. About 80 percent of its 1,067 employees (in both San Diego and the Orlando area) are scientists.

Kristiina Vuori, who served as the research institute’s interim CEO during the search, returns to her role as president, the institute’s No. 2 position, and as a cancer scientist affiliated with the institute’s NCI-designated cancer center.

Nisen takes over the position vacated by John Reed, a prominent scientist who specialized in programmed cell death and cancer. Reed became CEO in 2002, a position he held until he resigned early last year to take over pharmaceutical research and early drug development at Roche.

In a statement released by the institute, board chairman Greg Lucier says, “Under Dr. Nisen’s leadership, Sanford-Burnham will expand its efforts to cross the traditional boundary between academic research and commercialization.” At GSK, Nisen contributed to drug discovery and development programs, participated in key governance, scientific advisory, and investment boards, and helped establish an end-to-end research and development center in China.

Under partnerships that Reed established with Big Pharma partners like Takeda, Pfizer, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Sanford-Burnham scientists conducted pre-clinical research that helped validate prospective drug candidates. Nisen wants to strengthen and expand such collaborative research efforts, and his GSK ties could be helpful on that front.

As Sanford-Burnham’s CEO, Nisen also takes responsibility for realizing the 10-year strategic plan the institute adopted in January, along with overseeing business development and fundraising initiatives.

The new 10-year plan calls for a research model that encourages innovation by aligning biomedical research and translational research with drug discovery and development. At the beginning of 2014, the Sanford-Burnham said it had received a 10-year, $275-million pledge from an anonymous donor to help support the strategy.

The gift was timely, as funding for biomedical research has been declining in recent years at the National Institutes of Health. Nevertheless, federal research grant support still constitutes about 56 percent of the Sanford-Burnham’s $152-million operating budget. State support accounts for 17 percent of the institute’s budget, while philanthropy amounts to about 13 percent. Funding from licensing, other grants, and other revenue sources makes up the remaining 14 percent.

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HealthQuest Capital Raises $110M for Debut Fund with Medtech Focus

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 07:00
Bruce V. Bigelow

HealthQuest Capital, founded last year by Sofinnova Ventures partner Garheng Kong, says it has raised $110 million for its debut fund and already has invested in several medical technology and patient care products.

While HealthQuest is staying close to Sofinnova—sharing its Menlo Park, CA, office and back office resources—Kong says the firm has a different strategy.

Where Sofinnova has raised nearly $1 billion for its two most recent funds to invest mainly in biopharmaceuticals, HealthQuest set out to raise just $50 million for its first fund to invest in medical devices, diagnostics, health IT, mobile health, consumer over-the-counter products, and patient care products—especially where innovation can improve both patient care and healthcare costs. “Nowadays, innovation has to be cost-effective” as well as improve patient outcomes, Kong said, “so healthcare companies want to know how much cost you’re taking out of the system.”

The combination of team and strategy resonated with investors, Kong said, and he closed fund-raising at $110 million for HealthQuest’s inaugural fund. While there was some overlap with Sofinnova’s investors, he said HealthQuest’s limited partners are mostly different, and include pension plans, endowments, family offices, and individual investors. A HealthQuest spokeswoman declined to say whether Sofinnova itself has invested in the new fund, saying, “We aren’t providing any detail on underlying investors or economics.”

David Kabakoff, a San Diego-based partner with Sofinnova Ventures since 2007, will continue to play a role in both worlds. Kabakoff, who has had both operational and investment roles in the life sciences, will be making medtech investments for HealthQuest and placing bets on … Next Page »

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Innovation Hub: Your Brilliant Other Half

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 17:19
Kara Miller

We spend a lot of time celebrating one-in-a-million entrepreneurs: the Mark Zuckerbergs, the Steve Jobs, the Elon Musks. But what if most entrepreneurs are more like two in a million? People who couldn’t realize their vision without a brilliant partner.

Joshua Wolf Shenk writes about this phenomenon in Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. I talked to him about how it plays out in the tech world.

[This interview has been edited an condensed. For audio of the full conversation, visit]

Kara Miller: How much of a role does healthy tension play in productive partnerships?

Joshua Wolf Shenk: Some kind of tension or irritation is just fundamental, because when you look at how people come together and the kinds of people who come together, there is both vast similarity and profound differences. The co-founders of Google famously referred to each other as “obnoxious” on an early “Charlie Rose” interview. And a journalist who described that meeting said that they were like “two swords sharpening each other.”

KM: Can you think of other business partners who had some kind of initial chemistry but they were also an unlikely pair?

JWS: Well, we don’t have to go far. We can stay in Silicon Valley. The story of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg was a classic example of chemistry. They met in the vestibule of a Christmas party, and they became so absorbed in talking with one another that they ended up being kind of annoyed because they were in the vestibule and people kept coming in and wanting to say hello. They had really fallen into this profound conversation about how you scale a young company. People apparently now talk about for a young founder, like Zuckerberg, how do you find his Sheryl Sandberg?

KM: Really?

JWS: Before—and this is what happened to Steve Jobs a generation ago—the idea was that you needed to bring in the grownups, bring in a CEO who was used to running a company. They now see that you want to have the guy with the original passion and fire. But a lot of times people who are really smart at coming up with a new idea are not the perfect people to actually operate it. And this is one of the partnerships that shows up over and over again—the kind of person who is good at running an operation and the kind of person who is good at dreaming up new things.

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Carless in Cambridge: Bike & Car Sharing and the Future of Traffic

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 09:36
Wade Roush

Nine weeks ago, I lost my fancy hybrid street/trail bike to one of San Francisco’s plentiful bicycle thieves. Seven weeks ago, in preparation for a big move east, I sold my car. Now I’m settling into a new apartment in Cambridge, MA, and for the first time in my adult life, I don’t own a set of wheels.

It’s a strange feeling—both disorienting, since it takes a little longer to figure out how to go places, and liberating, since I no longer need to pay for gas or worry about where to park my car or lock my bike. At the moment, I have no plans to buy a new car, and I’m not even sure if I’ll get a new bike. Thanks to the Boston area’s extensive public transportation system and its dense vehicle-sharing network, I don’t really need them.

If I want to go a short distance and the weather is cooperating, I can grab a Hubway bike. If I need to go all the way across town or it’s wet out, I can take an MBTA train or bus, rent a Zipcar, find someone on Ridejoy who’s going my way, or call Uber or Lyft or even a regular old taxi.

In Boston and other metropolises, growing numbers of urbanites have the same expanding list of options. It seems inevitable that the big cities of the mid-21st century—the ones that aren’t underwater, anyway—will have fewer cars spewing less carbon dioxide. It’s exciting to live in one of the places where this future is being modeled and tested.

Here’s a little glimpse into the life of a bike- and car-sharing convert. Last week, I had to pick up a package at a FedEx facility in an industrial section of South Boston. I grabbed a bike from the Hubway station one block from my apartment. Using the bicycle lanes along Boston’s Greenway to zoom past the gridlock, I reached a branch library in South Boston, where there’s another Hubway station, in just 28 minutes. (On Hubway, knowing where you’re going to dock your bike at the end of a trip is key. For $85 per year—or just $25 in my case, thanks to a subsidy from my employer—Hubway members get unlimited use of the bikes, but extra charges pile up for trips over 30 minutes.)

From the library it was a short walk to FedEx, then another short walk to a Hubway station on Drydock Avenue in Boston’s seaport “Innovation District.” Another 23 minutes of biking took me to the Bunker Hill Mall shopping center in Charlestown, where I stopped at Whole Foods to stock up on dinner provisions. One more quick jaunt from Charlestown back to Cambridge over the Prison Point Bridge and I was home.

What makes a system like Hubway, San Francisco’s Bay Area Bike Share, or New York’s Citi Bike a nice alternative to owning a bike, in my mind, is the ability to dock your bike and forget about it. When you need to go somewhere, another bike will be there. The eternal war between bike owners and bike thieves is moot.

A couple of days later, I wanted to go to Ikea in Stoughton, MA, about 22 miles south of Cambridge, to pick up some patio furniture for my new place. There’s a Zipcar lot just a 10-minute walk from my building, so I fired up the Zipcar app on my iPhone, reserved a Ford Escape, and got down to Ikea and back in just three hours. Rental fee: $32.

Yes, I confess to being a spoiled, smartphone-toting urbanite who shops at Ikea and Whole Foods. I’m even lucky enough to have three equally convenient options for commuting to work: a 25-minute walk, a 15-minute Hubway ride, or a 10-minute shuttle bus ride. My point is that with accelerating re-urbanization—the undoing of the automobile-enabled sprawl that caused so much social and environmental damage in the 20th century—there will be more and more people like me who find that owning a car isn’t the necessity it once was.

Why deal with car payments, insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs when you can leave all of that to Zipcar (now a division of Avis) or one of its competitors, like Daimler’s Car2go, BMW’s DriveNow, or the San Francisco non-profit City CarShare? When you buy your own car, you’re paying for all the time when the vehicle is sitting idle in a garage or parking spot. With car sharing, you only pay for what you use. The American Automobile Association estimates that the average cost of owning a car in the U.S. is … Next Page »

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